A Pregnancy, an Abortion and a Story to Tell
(Evans Caglage/Staff Photographer)
When Nicole Stewart of Dallas and her husband learned about their baby’s multiple abnormalities, they decided an abortion was the right thing to do.
Talking openly about an abortion is rare. Talking openly about your late-term abortion is even more so. Talking openly on a performance stage about your late-term abortion is …
Well, it may be something that only Nicole Stewart has ever done.
It certainly wasn’t her plan when the performance was scheduled. “I thought I’d be telling happy, funny pregnancy stories,” said the 34-year-old resident of Dallas’ Lakewood area.
Nicole is the founder of Oral Fixation, a local theater series featuring true-life storytelling. Each show is loosely themed on a figure of speech. And last spring, Nicole was so overjoyed at being pregnant that she picked “Bun in the Oven” for the start of Oral Fixation’s third season in October.
But happy and funny were not to be.
She and her husband went in for the routine first sonogram at 20 weeks of pregnancy. “We went just to find out the sex of the baby,” she said, “and we found out so much more.”
The sonogram revealed a number of abnormalities in the baby boy. More tests followed. Doctors brought up termination of the pregnancy. And Nicole was devastated. “This was the hardest thing I ever dealt with in my whole life,” she said.
Ultimately, an MRI confirmed the worst. “The entire brain was abnormal,” she said. Another sonogram showed that fluid was building up in the brain and lungs. “The baby was going to stop being able to swallow and essentially drown.”
After much conversation and consultation, the couple decided on an abortion. Nicole was about 22 weeks along.
This was last June. And it so happened that at the very time, the Texas Legislature was debating a bill to forbid such an abortion. It would move the time limit from 24 to 20 weeks.
Not knowing much about the political process, Nicole was panicked that the law might be passed and take effect immediately. “I was already under such an incredible amount of stress,” she said.
She learned that it would take effect later. But still, the timing was stunning to her. On the day of her preliminary visit to the abortion clinic, she listened to a live feed of state Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster.
“The moment I clicked on that live stream, she was talking about me. She was describing my situation,” Nicole said. “She was talking about women who go in for their standard 20-week sonogram and find out that the fetus is abnormal.”
By now, we only talk of Davis’ filibuster as a legislative tactic and political springboard. But for Nicole, it’s still all about the substance of Davis’ words that day.
“The main reason I have told my story is that I don’t think a majority of people understand why a woman would want to or need to have an abortion after 20 weeks,” she said.
“That’s really all I care about getting out there — that this is not an irresponsible decision. It’s not a decision against life. It’s a decision that is medically driven and really should be between a doctor, her patient and the husband — period.”
The new Texas law does create an exemption to the 20-week ban for “severe fetal abnormality,” but Nicole is concerned that the government gets to define that rather than doctors and patients.
The Texas ban is based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks. That’s an issue still at play in federal courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court last week. But it’s a settled matter in Nicole’s mind.
“The care that I received at the clinic was such that I was never in pain, so I trust that the baby wasn’t either,” she said. An injection had stopped the baby’s heart the day before the abortion.
Nicole shudders at being forced to carry a dying baby to full term. “Every day that I had that baby inside me, knowing that he didn’t have a chance for a happy, healthy life, was a very, very sad day. Every day, every second. It was heartbreaking. I can’t even imagine having to go weeks or months longer.”
Even now, even after that public performance of her story and seeing it spread far on YouTube, she has to pause at times, close her eyes and steel herself to repeat the details. But she feels an obligation.
“The whole purpose for me of personal storytelling is to be as boldly transparent as possible so that we’re in true communication with one another,” she said.
“I’m not a political person. I don’t keep up with politics. I don’t engage in arguments about politics. But what I can do is tell the truth about what’s happening in my life. That’s why I told my story.”
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